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Wyoming Public Media is here to keep you current on the news surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

70+ Crowd Much More Eager To Get The COVID-19 Vaccine Than First Priority Group

Department of Defense photo by Lisa Ferdinando
Army Spc. Angel Laureano holds a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., Dec. 14, 2020.

For almost a year, Susie Scott hasn't been able to volunteer or see her children without a mask for longer than five minutes.

"That human touch is, I don't care who you are, everybody needs that," said Scott.

Scott, a resident of Albany County, is over 70 and has an underlying health problem that puts her at high risk for serious illness if she were to contract COVID-19. Since December, when it was announced vaccines were going to be made available, she has eagerly been waiting for her turn.

"We're obviously almost a month beyond the first of the year. And I've essentially had reached out on several fronts to try to find out the status in Albany County," said Scott. "And got a variety of reasons and situations explained to me as to why it was not available here."

Albany County is one of the few counties in the state that has not started offering vaccines to the 70 and over group and other frontline emergency personnel like funeral directors. Scott said it has been frustrating not being able to find information on the progress. Even Wyoming Public Radio was not able to find out the status of Albany County vaccines. The longer she waits the more uncomfortable she is.

"How long can you roll the dice at over 70 years of age, and hope that you don't get COVID when there is something to help you prevent that situation from occurring," said Scott.

Scott isn't alone, many Wyomingites over 70 are refreshing their county health department websites daily trying to figure out when they will be eligible.

Park County Public Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin said spots for those who are 70 and over and the rest of the second priority group filled up quickly.

"Within two days, all the vaccine clinics filled up," said Billin. "And we have to get more vaccines to be able to schedule more vaccine clinics."

And that's the problem. Wyoming is not receiving enough vaccines to meet the demand. This isn't just a Wyoming problem, the entire country is dealing with this. Laramie County Public Health Officer Dr. Stan Hartman hopes the new administration will fix things.

"Allocations are based on state population. We're hoping that the incoming administration will be able to get production ramped up and get more vaccines out to all the states, not just Wyoming," said Hartman.

Laramie County is booked for vaccinations all the way through the end of March. And Hartman said he's not sure when they will be able to open up to the priority group after that.

When Natrona County opened up to the second priority group, phone lines were exploding. However, when dealing with the first priority group, Natrona County saw underwhelming interest. Hailey Bloom, public information officer at the Casper-Natrona County Health Department, said things picked up when they got to the next round of vaccinations.

"I think that their [70 and over] uptake to the vaccine was not surprising, just because we knew that they wanted this vaccine, they wanted to be protected," said Bloom.

Interestingly, Natrona County sign up started to quiet down a little this past week.

"I don't know if there's a certain population that's just maybe waiting to get it or isn't ready to get it right now, said Bloom. "I mean, you think about that population. And there's a lot of snowbirds too. So are people gone? You know, it's a lot of different factors."

But this has opened up an opportunity for people like Susie Scott.

"An acquaintance of mine quite by accident found out that Natrona County had additional vaccines," Scott said.

So she called them up, "I said I live in Albany County and she said, 'Oh, that's not a problem', she said, 'I have people driving from Teton County to get their vaccines here'. I just want to live to be a ripe old age and I'm going to get my vaccination."

The state department of health said they recommend people to get vaccinated in their own county. And Natrona County Public Health Officer Dr. Mark Dowell said until more vaccines are shipped to Wyoming, people should be respectful

"We want people to stay in their own counties and get their vaccines there. That's the whole goal," said Dowell. "We're not blocking people. We're not being mean. It doesn't help anybody when people are doing that. And taking it away from people that live in that individual county."

But not all counties are administering the vaccine the same way. So they may try to go elsewhere until their local health departments are able to meet their needs.

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